Should Multinational Corporations be Agents of Global Justice?

Should corporations become agents of justice to help mitigate poverty and inequality? It is one of the main current issues and discussions around the concept and dimension of CSR.

This question would be addressed by the Ninth Politeia ForumCorporations and Global Justice: Should Multinational Corporations be Agents of Justice? due on 14th December 2012.

The past two editions of the internationally recognized Italian Forum of Politeia have analyzed the evolutions of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and role of multinational corporations, known as MCNs or multinational enterprises (MNEs).

With the Seventh Politeia Forum – The Corporation as a Political Actor: A New Role of Business in a Global Society (May 2011) – the Centre of Studies on Ethics and Politics Politeia has started to shed light on how MCNs increasingly assume direct political responsibilities that conventionally belong to governments as providers of citizenship rights and public goods.

Through the Eight Politeia ForumBusiness and Human Rights: In Search of Accountability (December 2011) – Politeia has further developed the theme of the new role of business in the globalization process by analyzing the impact of MCNs’ activities on human rights in relation to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which have provided a better definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments and corporate actors.

The Ninth Politeia ForumCorporations and Global Justice: Should Multinational Corporations be Agents of Justice? (December 2012) – will seek to improve its academic research contribution to the international debate on the grounds and scope of the duties of MNCs.


Traditionally, demands for global justice concern the duties of states and citizens; however, today there is a discussion on whether such demands should concern MCNs too.

While it is widely recognised that the latter have the negative duty not to engage in harmful activities, it is less clear whether, and to what extent, they have also the positive duty to remedy global injustices by translating the respect of the UN Global Compact Principles into actions aimed at fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals.

Therefore, any development about the possible solutions to the problems of global justice will mainly depend on the degree of cooperation between public actors such as governments and international organizations and private actors like civil society and business.

At present, the main international CSR standards (e.g. UN Global Compact, AA1000, SA8000, ISO 26000) constitute a global “institutional infrastructure” designed to help MNCs put into practice the principles of global justice in their worldwide operations.

However a critical analysis of such standards is needed in order to assess the benefits and pitfalls of their introduction. For this reason, the Ninth Edition of the Politeia Forum will specifically aim at framing the role of MCNs in the quest for universal justice.


Arguably, the very concept of CSR, however important, appears to be insufficient to address the issues of global justice, as it generates only little impact on the structural root causes of injustice.

An alternative perspective based on justice could, in fact, account better for the increasingly prominent political dimension of corporate responsibility. According to the latter approach, responsibility could be better understood as a shared responsibility among all relevant actors.

Thus in order to assess the fair share of responsibility that each actor bears, we should consider their different power, influence and capabilities. In the light of such assumptions, the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights seem to require a quite weak commitment to corporations, as they provide for the fulfillment of just the most basic expectations of society in MCNs’ respect.

In actual fact International Human Rights Law – considered as a legitimate marker of a global standard – requires more than just avoiding the infringement of human rights, as it compels both states and the private sector to actively contribute to the fulfillment of socio-economic rights. Therefore, a better consideration of MNCs’ positive obligations is needed in order to alleviate poverty and inequality on a global scale.


The Politeia Forum is organized by the Research Centre Politeia in partnership with the University of MilanDepartment of Social and Political Sciences, the Dublin City UniversityInstitute of Ethics and the Global Compact Network Italia.

The Forum is supported by a Promoting Committee composed of several well-known companies such as Bombardier, Edison, Terna, Telecom Italia, Unicredit, Fondazione AEM and IMF Group, and environmental organizations like Legambiente (League for the Environment) and groups like Transparency International Italia.

The objective of Politeia is to organize a Forum where managers of companies and experts in business ethics and CSR from the most prestigious academic research centers can have the opportunity to discuss the emerging ethical issues in the global economic system.

The Politeia Forum and its organization aims at increasing the awareness and knowledge of the ethical and social responsibilities of economic organizations, and filling the gap between ‘practitioners’ and ‘experts’ in the field of CSR practices and theories.

For more information about the Ninth Politeia Forum – Corporations and Global Justice: Should Multinational Corporations be Agents of Justice? due on the 14th of December 2012 and register to this event, please contact the Centre of Studies on Ethics and Politics Politeia.

We thank Dr. Emilio D’Orazio Director of the Centre of Studies on Ethics and Politics Politeia for granting us permission to use the content of his abstract in order to write this article.


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